Google Chromebook lacks luster -- and purpose

Samsung Chromebook Series 5 3G brings ho-hum hardware to the half-baked Chrome OS

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The Series 5 sports an Intel Atom processor, 2GB of RAM, a 16GB SSD, and few options for expansion. It has two USB ports for attaching mice and other peripherals, an SD card slot, a mic/headphone jack, and a dongle for a VGA adapter; that's all.

Samsung claims the Series 5 can get as much as 8.5 hours of continuous use, and this seems to be fairly accurate. Under normal browsing conditions, the battery meter dropped about 10 percent per hour. Sites with lots of Flash content seemed to run it down faster, and it began draining fairly rapidly once the level dropped below 30 percent. Charging a dead battery to full capacity took about two hours.

Chromebook: Booting up to the Web
The usage model is where the Series 5 really stands out. Chromebooks boot into Chrome OS, which is Google's Chrome browser -- nothing less and nothing more. Chrome OS can't load any traditional applications, utilities, or even hardware drivers. As a fully Web-based OS, everything you do happens inside a browser window. Closing the last browser tab simply opens a new, empty tab.

That means the Chromebook boots fast. After the initial setup, going from powered down to a log-in window takes less than 10 seconds.

Initial setup largely means logging into a Google account. If you already have one, the Chromebook is configured to use your Gmail, Calendar, Contacts, and other Google applications almost instantly. If you run the Chrome browser on your PC, its settings can be synchronized with the Chromebook, so your bookmarks, your saved passwords, and even your extensions can all follow you automatically.

If you don't have a Google account, however, or don't want to use your main account, you must sign up for a new one. Chrome OS won't function unless you're logged into Google's servers. How you feel about the privacy implications of this may play a large role in how you feel about the Chromebook experience.

Chromebook: Browsing at full power
The Chrome OS browser isn't a stripped-down browser or a mobile version. It's full-blown Chrome, meaning anything you can do with Chrome on your PC should work on the Chromebook. Chrome isn't yet as widely supported as Firefox, IE, or Safari, but its excellent Web standards support means most well-written Web applications will run without hiccups.

I had no trouble using Google applications such as Gmail and Google Docs, naturally. But I was also able to access Microsoft's Office 2010 Web Apps without a hitch, proving you're not tied to an all-Google world with a Chromebook. (Microsoft added formal support for Chrome to the Office Web Apps in May.)

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